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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Women Workers Are First To Lose Work As Demand For Construction Labour Recedes: NGO Aajeevika Bureau

  • IWB Post
  •  April 13, 2019

Over two decades ago, our government had passed two historic legislations — The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996 and the Building and Other Construction Workers Cess Act, 1996. Both were enacted to better the lives of construction workers but in reality, the long desired and much-needed welfare steps were never taken.

With the patriarchal setup of our society, even in this scenario, it is the women laborers who bear the brunt of the hurdles, a fact that NGO Aajeevika Bureau shared with IWB in a recent Twitter chat. Aajeevika Bureau is a non-profit organization working towards ensuring secure and dignified lives for migrant laborers.

Excerpts from our chat:

On women migrant population always being on the sidelines

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry #Construction sector is the 3rd largest employer of #women in the country – many of whom are seasonal & circular #migrants. While they form a significant proportion of the construction workforce, women are persistently denied the status of ‘worker’ (1/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Construction #labour markets often hire #migrant #women along with their husbands as a ‘jodi’. The woman #worker is seen as an additional labour. Negotiations regarding work is performed b/w labour contractor & male worker. #Women workers’ wages also paid to the male worker.

 

On what can be done to change this and who is to be held responsible

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Migrant women workers are doubly marginalised. In the cities where they migrate for work, they are excluded from basic facilities and services provided by the #state – including #water, #sanitation, dignified #housing, #health and #childcare services, and #safety (1/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry In addition to the difficult, strenuous paid labour in construction sites, they also struggle to sustain their households without basic facilities – working longer & harder to fetch water, access fuel & provide care in frugal and deplorable living conditions (2/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry #Migrant families often live on #construction sites. #BoCW Act requires employers to ensure the welfare of workers, these remain unenforced. Urban bodies responsible for ensuring basic #public# provisioning do not cover construction sites as they are not residential areas (3/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Another section live in open spaces – on #pavements, under flyovers, near railway tracks or public/private lands. These settlements are considered #illegitimate – facing #evictions & hostility by local authorities let alone being able to access basic services and facilities (4/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry They provide #cheap #labour to the #construction industry, subsidizing #urban economic #growth. They make up for lack in state’s public provisioning by performing unpaid labour for their households. Our research reveals that migrant women in #Ahmedabad work 17 hours daily (5/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Both the #state and #construction industry that benefit from the #paid & #unpaid #work of #migrant women construction workers are responsible for providing basic dignified conditions of work and life in the cities for these women (6/6)

On the legal framework needed to realize that construction workers are not ‘invisible, unaccounted for, not belonging’

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry The legal framework exist under #BoCW Act, Interstate Migrant Workers’ Act – but not enforced. What #neoliberal forces have been responsible for the systematic hollowing out of #labour departments, dilution of labour #laws & weakening of #trade #union #movement

On how they are solving the issue

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Aajeevika Bureau works across tribal dominated regions of southern Rajasthan with high levels of outmigration, as well as cities of Gujarat and Maharashtra, where migrant workers r employed in large numbers. It employs diverse strategies to work with migrant communities (1/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry One, it provides a set of basic services which r otherwise inaccessible to this highly #mobile & #marginalised community – #skills training, #legal literacy and aid, #financial services, #healthcare services, identity registration & linkages to #social #security (2/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry In last few years, it has shifted from merely focusing on male migrant – to include both #women #migrants & women who remain in the villages while their husbands #migrate for work – recognizing them as important actors in the migration story (3/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry In cities, we work #migrant #women, who migrate along with their families in highly vulnerable & unsafe conditions – in supporting their demands for improved #urban governance facilities and #dignified #living conditions & for basic facilities at worksites (4/4)

On what needs to be done to encourage and empower women in the informal economy to speak up collectively

 

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Women workers r first to lose work as demand for #construction #labour recedes, or manual labour is replaced with #machines. With very few opportunities for alternate employment, women take desperate measures, agreeing to work for lower wages and in #exploitative conditions (1/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Lack of job security & everyday stress of finding daily wages to sustain their households, makes it impossible for women to demand dignified work and living conditions from their employers & contractors, as they will be removed from the work and replaced for raising voices (2/n)

 

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry #Mobilizing and supporting women workers to call out the #patriarchal forces that act upon them – within their homes and worksites, by employers & contractors, & state policies that r gender blind thru #research & #evidence backed #advocacy is necessary (3/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry #Labour movements & collective bargaining platforms need to become #inclusive spaces & sensitive towards needs of women workers. This is possible when women’s paid & unpaid work is recognised as creating economic value for the #household, #employer & #state (5/5)

On training women to use machines and upgrade their working skills

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry In our experience, #skilling #women to work #machines or as masons, which r considered #skilled jobs with higher pay, does not yield many results, as labour contractors and employers are reluctant to hire women for skilled jobs, which is seen as the exclusive domain of men (1/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry #Migrant women #construction workers in #Ahmedabad shared with us that even though they have worked in construction for many years and have taught masonry to their sons, they are not allowed to perform it on the site (2/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Based on our research in #Ahmedabad, women workers carry over 5000 kilograms, walking over 4 kms, balancing the load over #hazardous terrain & work continuously without breaks daily. Yet this work is #devalued and termed #unskilled (3/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry This is because the work that #women perform at #construction sites – lifting & carrying or fetching r considered work that has been performed by women for free in their households – collecting #water and #fuel etc (5/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Patriarchal norms that form basis of devaluation of women’s work need to be tackled. Necessary for skilling of women to be underpinned by a labour movement, which is inclusive of women’s & address how employers, labour contractors, workers, state & society are socialized (5/5)

On building mobile crèches and the success rate so far

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Aajeevika Bureau runs 6 #mobile #creches in construction sites in Ahmedabad. They r important spaces for ensuring safety & nutrition of migrant children, but also provide espite to women workers who perform strenuous construction work while caring for children on the side (1/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry While setting up #mobile #creches on large construction sites is relatively easy – builders might provide some space & share finances after negotiation, bulk of migrant women are employed in small & #informal #construction sites where this intervention is difficult (2/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry #Creches need to be seen as part of an #integrated #housing solution – including basic services & facilities, decent living spaces for migrant workers. Our experience of working with a large builder for such a solution shows that this is not impossible (3/n)

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry #Housing solutions take up only a small portion of overall project cost but running and managing it requires large efforts which builders are reluctant to take on. Why is there no market/agencies for facilitating dignified housing including #creches on #construction sites? (4/4)

On the solution for smaller and informal construction sites to have mobile creches

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry The state should subsidize and provide options for childcare in migrant dense geographical clusters in urban areas – close to the work sites of women is a potential solution.

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Alternatively, the NREGA model, where one woman is employed to take care of the children of other women workers, with provision basic facilities and training can be experimented with. We need to work on iterative solutions, while we think about comprehensive childcare facilities

On what needs to be done on a broader scale to have mobile crèches on site

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry As discussed earlier, bigger builders r legally mandated to provide housing including creches, which acc to our experience are less than 1% of costs in large projects. Agencies that fill the gap in running and managing these r reqd as builder reluctant to take on this burden

On spreading awareness among regular citizens about the issue

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Construction is a consumer driven industry where all citizens r implicated – we need to create concerted campaigns and awareness drives on poor labour standards in the industry that builds our homes, offices & infrastructure.

@Aajeevika Bureau on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @MinistryWCD @HRDMinistry Our #educational system needs to look at #labour concerns, as larger issues of #social #justice within its curriculum at school & #university levels. There is an urgent need to focus on creating #socially #conscious #citizens thru our educational institutions

Taking a step towards erasing that bleak image, IWB has filed a petition to the Ministry of Women & Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Prime Minister’s Office, which addresses the need of installing Mobile Crèches for children at the worksites.

Sign the petition here.

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